Most of our RSPCA welfare standards for farm animals are essentially ‘input’ standards, requiring farmers to provide their animals with certain resources, such as space, feed, and veterinary care. However, it is important to know about the effect these resources are having on the welfare of the animals.
We believe that it is no longer acceptable to make assumptions about the state of animals' welfare based simply on the resources provided to them. We've therefore been working hard to develop practical, reliable methods for assessing the health, physical condition and behaviour of farm animals to give us a more accurate and direct picture of their welfare. This approach is known as 'welfare outcome assessment'.
We began this process in 1999 by commissioning the University of Bristol to develop welfare outcome assessment protocols for laying hens, pigs and dairy cattle. The RSPCA’s Farm Livestock Officers (who carry out monitoring of the Freedom Food scheme) have been carrying out these assessments since August 2007 on Freedom Food approved farms.
The AssureWel project
We are now involved in a 5 year project called AssureWel in collaboration with the Soil Association and University of Bristol. One key aim of the AssureWel project is to develop a system of welfare outcome assessment for the major farm animal species, which can be incorporated into farm assurance schemes including the RSPCA Freedom Food and the Soil Association certification schemes.
For more information download the AssureWel project brochure (PDF: 4,340 KB).
Where we are now
So far the project has developed assessment protocols for key welfare indicators for laying hens, such as feather cover and aggression, and dairy cattle, such as lameness and body condition. The measures for pigs are currently being developed and field-tested.
For the latest information visit the AssureWel website.
Welfare outcome assessment is used by Freedom Food assessors and RSPCA Farm Livestock Officers as objective evidence when checking compliance with RSPCA welfare standards. The results are fed back to farmers enabling them to concentrate on any areas of welfare highlighted as needing improvement. We also provide benchmarking data so farmers can see how they compare with others. Through the project, we will provide advice and support to producers and producer groups on detecting, monitoring and improving welfare issues, including training and farmer learning events. Information from welfare outcome assessments will also help to inform development of the RSPCA welfare standards.
For more information about the AssureWel project contact the farm animals department at email@example.com.
The AssureWel project is supported by the Tubney Charitable Trust.